Today, Ken Knickerbocker and I are trading posts. Ken generously provides the residents of Parkesburg, Pennsylvania (which is where my wife and I reside) with “Parkesburg’s News and Happenings” at his website, Parkesburg Today, fulfilling a much needed service to our community.
On May 1st of this year Ken suffered the loss of his father. I’ve always thought one of the best things we can do as we experience loss is try and write our thoughts down. Not only has Ken done this, but he was gracious enough to share his thoughts here, allowing us to take part in his experience by sharing his lose of a parent, as well as the funeral rites he gave to his father, and the help provided him by a funeral director.
Sharing a personal grief experience with another is a sacred act, so read as though you are on sacred ground.
All alone laying on a table in the middle of a big empty room with only a hospital-like gown covering his body is how I found my father last week when my brother and I went to the Minshall Shropshire-Bleyler funeral home in Brookhaven a few miles southwest of Media, Pennsylvania to dress his body in preparation for the viewing and funeral service two days later.
My father had passed away three days earlier following a four year battle with cancer and Parkinson’s disease. He had taken a bad fall in January and ended up in the hospital with a fractured skull.
After his fall it was all downhill health wise for the poor man. Over the next four months until his death on May 1st he spent at most two, maybe three, weeks at home.
His passing, while sad, provided my father certain relief from his physical ailments and an increasingly frail, feeble existence.
Two days after he passed, I went to the funeral home with my stepmother and siblings to finalize arrangements for my father’s funeral and burial. Mike Okon, the funeral director, met us at the door, welcomed us, expressed sorrow for our loss and ushered us into the funeral home’s spacious conference room.
Mike sat patiently for an hour as my stepmother and I hammered out the wording of my father’s obituary and then reviewed the details of the itemized invoice line by line with her to ensure she understood and agreed with each of the several charges. At the end of the session Mike walked our family to the door remembering each of our names as he said goodbye.
Two days later my brother and I returned to the funeral home to dress my father. Dressing a body is not something one does every day but in our religious tradition men dress deceased males and women do the same for their departed sisters. Usually someone from the deceased person congregation is designated to dress the corpse but in my father’s case, my step mother assigned the task to my older brother Chuck and I.
While Chuck and I have been members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) since my parents joined the church in the late 1950’s, neither of us had much experience dressing a body. Chuck had never done it and I had only done it once, a few years back at the Wilde Funeral Home in Parkesburg under the watchful and ever helpful guidance of Bud Wilde.
Mike ushered us into the room where my Father’s body lay and turned to leave. Quickly, before he reached the door, I summoned Mike back and asked him to stay and assist us. He informed us he had never dressed a Mormon for burial and wasn’t sure how he could help.
Over the next hour Mike demonstrated all the attributes of the true professional. As my brother and I slipped slacks and a shirt, both white, over my father’s lifeless limbs, Mike showed us how to shift my father’s weight to position the clothes on his body. Once the shirt was buttoned, Mike tied the tie, also white, and slipped it over my Father’s head and under his shirt collar, tightening it perfectly around his neck.
Chuck placed socks and shoes, also white, on my father’s feet. Using tricks of his trade Mike filled out my father’s clothing to mask the weight dad had lost in the months leading up to his death. Finally, as Chuck and I placed the robes sacred to our faith over my father’s shoulders and around his waist, Mike made sure every crease and fold laid flat.
Thanks to Mike’s master’s touch in the hour it took to dress him, my father’s body was transformed from a lifeless corpse to a man ready to meet his maker.
A tranquil experience my brother and I won’t soon forget made possible by a consummate professional funeral director.